Nov 8, 2005

Google Press Center: Zeitgeist

Google Press Center: Zeitgeist

Some strange results in the top 20 most popular searches on Google Ireland...

"RTE" - top I suppose that's fair enough - but then again the website is - so a search is not really necessary.
American restaurant is number 3 - what's that about. Are there really that many people looking for American Restaurant in Ireland? Maybe it's some webmaster checking his web site position 100 times a day. The same fella must be looking for Japanese Restaurant too! That's at number 7 !!

Makes a change from Paris Hilton and Harry Potter - who seem to be the obsession everywhere else in the world....

Nov 2, 2005

Childcare in Ireland

Irish parents can pay up to €1,083 a month to send a baby to a creche, according to a national survey on the cost of childcare, to be published this week.
The average cost is €731 a month to send a baby to a creche full-time and €631 for a toddler.

Limit on ringtone spend for children in Ireland

Children under 18 in Ireland will not be able to spend more than €10 a month on mobile-phone ringtones and other subscription services when a new code comes into force this week.

This follows concerns about the alleged misleading promotion and cost of subscription services such as mobile phone ringtones, logos and wallpapers.

Regtel, which regulates premium rate phone lines such as competition lines and mobile phone ringtones, has just published a new code of practice, which will come into force on Tuesday. Previously, only children under the age of 16 were protected under the Regtel code. This age limit has now been increased to 18.

There will be a €10 monthly limit on the amount children can spend on subscription services.

This year, subscription services have topped the list of complaints received by Regtel, with many consumers not realising they had subscribed to a service.

Regtel has received 3,261 telephone complaints so far this year from consumers who could not cancel subscriptions and were subsequently billed for services. This is almost five times the number of complaints received in 2004.

Nov 1, 2005

Broadband providers Ireland

Some costs and speeds of broadband in Ireland
(Only available in main towns and cities)


(i) Speed: 2MB

Cost: €42 per month (promotion; normally €54)

(ii) Speed: 1MB

Cost: €30 per month (promotion; normally €40)

BT Ireland

(i) Speed: 1MB

Cost: €30 per month (promotional €15 per month for first four months)

(ii) Speed: 2MB

Cost: €40 per month (promotional €25 per month for first four months)


(i) Speed: 3MB

Cost €42 per month (including line rental)

(ii) Speed: 4MB

Cost: €109 per month (including line rental)


Speed: 3MB

Cost: €45 per month

Smart Telecom

Speed: 2MB

Cost: €35 per month (including line rental).

reland - Getting a mortgage

There are now more than 15 mortgage providers in Ireland.

The basics offered by most institutions are quite similar. Generally one-year fixed interest rates range between 2.55 per cent to about 3.3 per cent.

Two-year fixed rates start at about 3.15 per cent rising to about 3.4 per cent.

First-time buyers are a key group for most banks and building societies - many offer them special discount rates. An example of this is Bank of Ireland, which offers first-timers a six-month discount variable rate of 2.49 per cent, or a one-year variable discount rate of 2.69 per cent.

Another tactic used is offering first-time buyers the chance to defer the start of their repayments. Both Bank of Ireland and AIB allow first-timers to defer repayments until up to three months after they take out their loan.

First-time buyers can also be lured by the term of their loan. Generally Irish mortgages do not exceed 30 years, but AIB offers first-time buyers a maximum loan term of 35 years, meaning lower repayments over a longer period.

Banks also compete on the percentage of your purchase price they will let you borrow.

The 100 per cent mortgage is the most high-profile development on this front.

This type of mortgage has actually been on the Irish market for decades, but until quite recently its availability was restricted to very specific professional classes. But now there is a greater availability of 100 per cent mortgages out there, with First Active and Bank of Ireland among the institutions offering these mortgages to a wider variety of customers.

The 100 per cent mortgages have received a mixed reaction in Ireland. The financial regulator has cautioned on the dangers of people becoming over stretched and taking on more debt than they can manage.

Flexible or current account mortgages are now more common in Ireland
. In 2003, First Active introduced its Current Account Mortgage, which allows users to pay interest only on the difference between the balance of their current account and their mortgage account.

Earlier this year, National Irish Bank launched its offset mortgage, which allows you to pay interest on the balance of a whole basket of accounts.

The way the account is structured means that every cent you have in credit with the bank (in current accounts and savings accounts) is automatically offset against your mortgage amount, so that you only pay interest on the overall amount you owe the bank.

House Prices in Ireland - boom or bust?

We are on our own if the bubble bursts:

House-price booms and busts are surprisingly common in industrial countries. In a new study of house prices that I wrote with several of my former colleagues at the US Federal Reserve, we identified no fewer than 44 episodes of house price booms and busts in industrial countries since 1970.

Given the eye-popping gains in house prices in Ireland over the past decade, the foreign experience is particularly relevant.

On balance, the lessons from the study are quite sobering, and underscore the difficulty of the task that will face policy makers in Ireland in the event of a significant downturn in Irish house prices.

The difficulty arises in part because it is not clear what policy-makers in Ireland should do, if anything, to respond to so-called asymmetric shocks - that is, shocks that affect Ireland but do not affect other members of the euro area, or shocks that produce different effects on the Irish economy than on other euro-area economies. A crash in Irish house prices is an example of such a shock. What's more, the chances of a house price bust might be greater than many people think.

Consider the ratio of house prices to rents, which has been shown to provide a useful benchmark for valuing housing in other countries. The price-rent ratio in Ireland has soared over recent years and at 29 now stands roughly 2.5 times above its level in 1996. Irish house prices have surged 300 per cent over the past decade, while increases in rents have been relatively muted. Price-rent ratios at these levels raise legitimate concerns about the sustainability of Irish house prices.

The Fed study shows that certain financial conditions, such as low interest rates and financial deregulation, are usually factors in past house price surges, though other features, such as demographics and buoyant income growth, also help explain these booms.

Typically, house prices peak not long after central banks begin raising interest rates in response to emerging inflation pressures. Subsequently, house prices fall for about five years, on average, and their previous gains are largely reversed. In other words, the larger the boom, the greater the bust. Not surprisingly, the downward correction in house prices is usually accompanied by an economic downturn, rising unemployment, and deteriorating fiscal balances.

Interestingly, the latest rise in house prices in industrial countries has been the most dramatic on record. House prices in recent years have risen at a rapid pace, not just in Ireland, but in Australia, Spain, Britain and the United States. If the current episodes follow the typical patterns seen in the past, house prices will eventually slow in these countries, some of which could endure a period of flat or even falling prices in the future.

Central bankers don't agree on how best to respond to booms in house prices.

The Fed's Alan Greenspan prefers a hands-off approach, arguing that central banks do not have weapons in their arsenals that can burst bubbles without doing undue harm to the wider economy.

Other central bankers, such as the Bank of England's Mervyn King, appear more willing to tighten monetary policy to try to stem current and future surges in house prices.

When house price booms turn into busts, however, there seems to be no disagreement on how to respond. The evidence shows that in the aftermath of house price peaks, when house prices are falling, central banks cut interest rates quickly and sharply.

Importantly, the aim of the interest rate cuts is not to reverse the declines in house prices per se - as mentioned earlier, following a pronounced run-up, prices tend to fall a long way.

Rather, the goal is to cushion both economic activity and the financial system from the effect of the house price crash. Lower interest rates deliver a shot in the arm for debt-laden households and businesses and help offset the drag on the economy from declines in house building, employment in the construction industry and household sentiment.

Moreover, lower interest rates and downward revisions to expectations for future economic growth cause the country's currency to depreciate on foreign exchange markets, which helps boost exports. This channel is especially important for small open economies.

For example, following the bursting of real estate bubbles in the Scandinavian countries in the late 1980s, improvements in competitiveness as a result of currency depreciation appear to have been an important element in eventually bringing about recoveries in these economies.

The evidence also shows that the recession that follows a crash in house prices usually lasts about a year. The economy then starts to recover as the supporting effects of looser monetary policy kick in, though it can take up to five years for economic growth to return to its pre-peak pace.

In summary, in the face of an adverse shock to the property market, the trick seems to be to let prices - interest rates, exchange rates and house prices - do the downward adjusting, so that quantities - output and employment - don't have to.

What can we infer from all this about the Irish economy's capacity to withstand a bust in house prices? The answer seems to be that Ireland is rather vulnerable.

One implication of Ireland's having adopted the euro as our currency is that interest rates here no longer respond to domestic economic conditions.

Eurozone interest rates are set by the European Central Bank, and the ECB cares only about the euro area as a whole, not about individual member countries.

As Ireland accounts for only a negligible part of the eurozone's activity and inflation, the ECB pays little attention to us. Similarly, the foreign exchange value of the euro is not affected by developments in Ireland.

So if Irish house prices crash, we can't respond in the traditional manner by cutting interest rates and letting our currency depreciate. Monetary policy didn't tighten during the boom and won't loosen during the bust, soother prices will have to do the heavy lifting if we are to avoid an especially nasty outcome.

Moreover, increases in construction of houses have been a key contributor to overall growth in the Irish economy of late.

In fact, one can imagine a scenario in which global interest rates spike up from historically low levels at present, bursting housing bubbles in countries that have experienced sharp run-ups over recent years. The Bank of England and the Fed respond in the usual way by slashing interest rates, and sterling and the dollar would both plunge. But falling house prices in Ireland (and perhaps in Spain) would not elicit a response from the ECB.

Ireland would then face a perfect storm of falling house prices, rising interest rates and debt-servicing costs, and the euro appreciating against the currencies of our two largest trading partners, Britain and the US.

The best strategy would obviously be to make sure that a bubble doesn't inflate here and that households don't take on more debt then they can handle, though some observers might claim that the authorities are behind the curve in both these respects.

In the event that Irish house prices do fall, economic flexibility will be crucial in containing any fallout.

In this regard, some lessons can be drawn from Hong Kong's experience in the late 1990s.Hong Kong's currency board arrangement means that the authorities there have essentially no control over domestic interest rates or the exchange rate. When property prices collapsed in 1997 and 1998, it was sustained declines in nominal wages that eventually restored the economy's competitiveness. But declines in nominal wages are rarely seen in industrial countries, and are usually vigorously opposed by trade unions. Whether the wage-formation process in Ireland is up to the task of rebalancing the Irish economy in the aftermath of a property crash is very much an open question.

Tax cuts and increases in government spending would also help to revive the economy following a house price bust, though the effectiveness of such measures is blunted by the openness of the Irish economy.

One thing is for sure: if house prices crash here, the much-vaunted flexibility of the Irish economy and the innovativeness of Irish policy makers will be sorely tested.